Another factor may have been new requirements that films get an official “dragon seal,” or certification of approval by censors, as well as a travel permit to show at international film festivals.
As a result, people with knowledge of the industry say, many films — particularly those that deal with delicate topics — are having a harder time getting through China’s byzantine bureaucracy.
“Supervision has become stricter,” said Zhang Xianmin, one of China’s foremost independent film producers. “The space for independent films is shrinking.”
While Zhang Yimou is arguably China’s most acclaimed filmmaker, he has also been in and out of the good graces of the authorities. In 1994, his film “To Live” was banned in China. In 2014, Mr. Zhang and his wife were ordered to pay a $1.24 million fine for violating the one-child policy by having three children.
President Xi Jinping has himself been critical of Mr. Zhang. According to a 2007 WikiLeaks cable, Mr. Xi, who was then party secretary of Zhejiang Province, criticized Chinese filmmakers for not promoting the right values, and cited Mr. Zhang in particular.
“Some Chinese moviemakers neglect values they should promote,” Mr. Xi said, according to the cable.
Mr. Zhang’s film was withdrawn just days after another Chinese film, “Better Days,” was pulled from the Berlin festival’s Generation section. Producers of the film, which tells the story of disaffected youth, said it hadn’t been finished in time to get approval from censors. But Variety, citing industry sources, said the film had failed to receive the necessary permissions from the Chinese authorities.
Despite the last-minute withdrawals, Chinese filmmakers are still making a strong showing at this year’s Berlin festival. Wang Xiaoshuai’s “So Long, My Son” and Wang Quan’an’s “Öndög” are both in contention for the Golden Bear award, the festival’s top prize, while Lou Ye’s “The Shadow Play” is being shown in the Panorama section.